49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

September 26, 2008
49ers suffering from infections and from denial

Admitting you have a staph infection issue is a little like admitting you have a sexually transmitted disease. This is what a league official - he shall remain nameless - told me today when I asked him why the 49ers have been acting so mysterioso about the recent staph infections suffered by Keith Lewis and Josh Morgan. And indeed he helped explain why the 49ers have been so tight-lipped about the issue.

"If players feel like they're in danger or they're not getting the proper care - you'd better overpay them or they're not coming," the official said. Which is to say, word spreads quickly around the league and agents use it as leverage when it comes to free agency. It's impossible to pinpoint where a staph infection is picked up, but still it reflects poorly on your organization. Staph infections are extremely dangerous, and in the eyes of the league, embarrassing. It raises all sorts of questions about the cleanliness of your facility.

For the last month, the 49ers have been mum on why Lewis and Morgan, who was one of the most exciting players in the preseason, missed time at the end of August. When they resumed practice, they were given black jerseys, an indication to other players they were not to be engaged in full contact. Asked why they weren't playing, Mike Nolan and team officials said only it was an "illness" and claimed to know nothing more.

The cat, however, started to crawl out of the bag last week. During the broadcast of the Lions-49ers game, FOX's Brian Billick said that Morgan had lost 15 pounds since the preseason. Where did he get that information? The Friday before games, the broadcast crew sits down with coaches and hopes they give insights they can use during the Sunday broadcast.

On Wednesday, Maiocco asked Morgan about the weight loss and he admitted it was a staph infection that had spread to several areas of his body. Morgan said then - and reiterated today - that he had lost a lot of weight and was still trying to put it back on. Morgan said that he thought he may have picked up the infection from the infield dirt during the preseason opener in Oakland.

That's unlikely. First, the bacteria that causes the infection isn't usually found in dirt. And if it were, there would no doubt be reports of Raiders and A's players suffering from it. One possibility - and one that was looked at when the Rams suffered a staph outbreak in 2003 - is an artificial playing surface. Unlike grass, whatever falls onto an artificial surface - spit, blood, sweat, etc. - doesn't go anywhere. And in California, there's no rain to wash that collection of germs away from April to November. One of the 49ers' three practice fields is artificial. However, the 49ers typically only use it for walk-throughs.

The 49ers certainly aren't offering any answers. Yesterday, I asked Mike Nolan if Morgan had recovered from his staph infection and he reacted like he'd never heard of staph infections or Morgan. "That was written and I don't even know it's been accurate to be honest with you. That's all speculation with this and that. That's hearsay information. It didn't come from Fergie (trainer Jeff Ferguson) did it?" Told that the information came from Morgan himself, Nolan said, "Did it?" Sgt. Schultz would be proud.

I'm sure the 49ers did everything they possibly could to treat Morgan and to prevent the infection from spreading to more players. But playing dumb is only making the situation worse. The information is out there. Everyone in the league knows now. The only thing that will help the 49ers is explaining how similar infections will be prevented in the future.

Almost forgot .... Here are some guys to scout in today's big Big 10 game:


#27 Brandon Harrison SS
#90 Timothy Jamison DE
#97 William Johnson DT
#67 Terrance Taylor DT
#14 Morgan Trent CB


#9 Travis Beckum TE
#2 Jonathan Casillas OLB
#75 Andrew Kemp G
#92 Matthew Shaughnessy DE
#63 Kraig Urbik G
#71 Eric Vandenheuvel T

-- Matt Barrows

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Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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